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Votes

Too Close To Call

Incumbent wins by less than 1 percent, challenger does not concede.

The outcome of the State Senate race in the 37th District was still up in the air the day after the polls closed.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37) technically won his re-election Nov. 6 by less than one-half of a percentage point, according to results posted the Virginia’s State Board of Elections. Out of 37,174 ballots cast, Cuccinelli received about 91 more votes than his opponent, Democrat Janet Oleszek, did.

Even though the results show Cuccinelli in the lead, the Oleszek campaign has not conceded the race yet. The candidate wants to wait until after the canvass — a routine check of voting records in the 39th District race — to make sure no mistakes or glitches in the system occurred, said campaign manager Jonathan Murray.

Both Oleszek and Cuccinelli said they were not likely to have the results of the canvass until Nov. 8 or Nov. 9. The two campaigns each have volunteers and staff members monitoring the government-run vote check.

If the vote count was likely to come out in Oleszek’s favor, Cuccinelli appeared unlikely to pursue a recount of the votes, which is a legal challenge.

"So far, there is no indication of any kind of need for a recount. A recount in Virginia doesn’t really get you anything," said Cuccinelli.

In terms of a recount, said Murray, the Oleszek campaign will "cross that bridge if we come to it."

THE OLESZEK CAMPAIGN said there are a few reasons to believe that the mistakes may have been made during the vote count, said Murray. Fairfax County used a new system to count votes this year. Instead of linking all of the county voting machines together, the election officials had to add up all the votes manually, which leaves more room for error, he said.

The election officials doing the tabulations had also been working at the polls for as long as 15 hours, making them more prone to mistakes, Murray added.

"A mistake on one machine can change the election results by 100 votes," said Murray.

Cuccinelli is confident he has won the race. He added that he always expected the results to be close.

"We have won the race. It is just a question of going through the ratification process," he said.

Though their vote counts appear to be the closest, Cuccinelli and Oleszek have the most divergent views of any two Fairfax County candidates running against each other.

Cuccinelli, a self-described conservative, is anti-abortion, anti-tax and opposed to embryonic stem cell research. But several voters compliment the incumbent on his constituent services, such as acquiring a new stop light, and even the Republican's opposition said he works hard as a state legislator.

"He has been campaigning since the moment after he was elected in 2003. That puts us at a disadvantage," said Murray, two days before the election.

But Oleszek, an at-large School Board member who defines herself as mainstream Democrat, worked hard. She knocked on thousands of doors, said Murray.

Oleszek is pro-choice and favors expanding benefits for gay couples. If she wins the race, she said, she will focus on education issues and is particularly concerned about the rising cost of state colleges and universities.

THE 37TH DISTRICT race results have been determined by voter turnout. In this week’s off-year election, approximately 32 percent of registered voters in the 37th District cast ballots at the polls.

Members of both campaigns agree that Cuccinelli has more devoted supporters who are more likely to turn out for an off-year election. Oleszek, whose views on social issues correspond more with the district's, would have benefited from higher turnout.

A recent network television advertisement has gained some traction with voters, said Murray. But Cuccinelli has a seen a little fallout from Oleszek's television advertisement, and added that the commercial focuses on his pro-life stance and may have reminded his voters to come to the polls.

Cuccinelli said his strong stance on illegal immigration has also resonated with voters, more so than usual.

"Repeatedly, the subject has come up. Clearly some people on going to vote on it, solely on it, which I have never seen before," said Cuccinelli.

BOTH CANDIDATES exceeded all fund-raising expectations during the campaign. As of Oct. 26, Cuccinelli had raised more than $1 million and Oleszek had raised more than $900,000. Both candidates continued to receive contributions into the early days of November.

"I knew this was going to be a $1 million race, but I thought it was going to be a $1 million race between both candidates, not $1 million each," said Murray.